Village of Ashwaubenon Phished: Loses nearly $300K of taxpayer money

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ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WBAY) — Ashwaubenon Village President Michael Aubinger says he’s embarrassed after the village fell victim to a scam losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

“[This is] something I didn’t need before Thanksgiving,” Aubinger said.

He says losing more than $290,000 of taxpayer money is no joking matter.

“Well, we had to break out the defibrillator – everybody on the board was extremely upset,” he said about a special meeting held Tuesday night after the village learned of the scam.

The money was supposed to go to a contractor doing work at Klipstine Park, but the village sent a lump sum check to a scammer posing as that contractor.

“We found out about it two weeks later when the company said, ‘hey, where’s our check?,'” says Aubinger.

Aubinger says somehow phishers learned the identity of the contractor, called the village posing as them, and said their bank account had changed. Aubinger says no one at the village, including him, followed up to see if the change was legitimate.

“There’s enough blame here to go around to several people and to say I’m not responsible, yes I am. I’m on top, I should have checked,” he says.

Aubinger says taxes will not be increased to make up for the loss. He says the village is in a strong enough state to withstand losing the money.

“I’m sure it’s created a lot of headaches for everybody,” says Robert Messer, an investigator with Ashwaubenon Public Safety.

Aubinger says Messer has recovered about a third of the money, but says it hasn’t been easy since the scammers spread the stolen loot to several bank accounts.

“It can happen to anyone,” Messer says. “I don’t think the government is immune to it and unfortunately it happened this time here.”

Investigators are still trying to recover the rest of the missing funds.

The village wouldn’t give us specifics, but say three village employees have been disciplined.

They also plan to increase cyber training and making sure all employees understand all procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“It’s something that’s embarrassing to us and extremely, extremely bad,” Aubinger said.